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A Glimpse at Liberia Political Culture

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Since independence, the expectations for better living conditions for the people of Liberia and fighting corruptions have forced some Liberians into politics with the hope of delivering campaign manifestos which in theory have never aloof from the interests of the people. With the changes of regimes, people still complain on grounds of their expectations have been dashed or unmet by the very politicians that criticized previous regimes.

Today as we speak from observation through listening to radio talk shows, reading articles or commentaries in newspapers, it can be inferred that many Liberians seem to be anxious and impatience for a regime change come 2017 for the same reasons since independence. The recent Special Senatorial elections in which only two out of the twelve (12) incumbents Senators survived worth being used as an attestation for our inference.

Having pondered about these concerns that worth to be considered as Liberia old age problems or challenges yet to be tackled, my attention is being drawn to a glimpse at the political culture of Liberia which I think could be our problem. Please be informed that this article is not in any way intended to politically lash out or badmouth any person or regime. So, please don’t attempt to insinuate what is not in the author’s mind. Rather, it is intended for enlightenment so that people hoping or anxious for regime change come 2017 will either lower their expectations or be taken by surprise in as much as the problems still exist.

To begin with the crux of the enlightenment, it is sensible to review how political culture is being conceptualized.

Not to be too academic,research help us understand a State or Country Political Culture to depicts or describes the attitudes, values, beliefs, and orientations that individuals in a society hold regarding their political system all of which are ideological and embodiment of the collective history of their political system. A political culture is a reflection of a government that may remain more or less the same over time. It varies from State to State or Country to Country.

Political culture changes over time, but the changes often happen slowly. People frequently become set in their ways and refuse to alter their attitudes on significant issues. Sometimes it can take generations for major shifts to occur in a nation’s political culture.

For examples, military rule as an embodiment of the Nigeria Political culture, has arguably shaped the political perceptions and actions of the ordinary Nigerians that voting for former military leader is relevant for dealing with the complex sociopolitical and economic issues especially in Country considered to be ethnically fragmented. No wonder why majority of their Presidents were former military Generals as evidenced of Gen. Mohammadu Buhari as one the main or major fourteen candidates that could defeat the incumbent as perceived by others.

One example of the ways in which American political culture has been slow to change concerns the rights of minorities. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 authorized federal troops to supervise balloting in federal elections in the South in order to protect the voting rights of black Americans. Even though the bill passed forty years ago, many government officials fear that racial tensions in the South could still threaten the political freedoms of blacks, which is why Congress and President George W. Bush reauthorized the Voting Rights Act in 2006.

Political culture is can be both helpful and detrimental to the wellbeing of the society. Deeply rooted in liberal democracies, the U.S. political culture is arguably responsible for the U.S. being a melting pot that attracts many people through the diversified lottery program unlike other Countries. Deliberately, I used the U.S. as an example because Liberia practices liberal democracy.

For the detrimental aspect of political culture,in most of the Arab Countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, the political cultures manifested by long-held attitudes toward women and other ethnic groups, along with habits of obedience shaped by years of tyranny remain as the major challenge for the infusion of liberal democracy by the U.S.

For another example, don’t be surprised to label prolonged regimes as part of the negative political culture shared by many African Countries that accounts for most of the civil conflicts.

Now the political culture of Liberia. Arguably believing to be liberal democracy, Liberia political culture started with of the dominance of the grand old true Whig Party (TWP) that ruled the Country for many years characterized by a culture of patronageand marginalization of the indigenes active participation in the sociopolitical affairs that would have afforded them the equal privileges enjoyed by the elites. This ideological concept was vehemently resented and over the years ushered in multi-democracy with the hope of solving our problems as expected by many Liberians.The existence of the sizable number of political parties, the freedom of speech the appointments of government officials that reflect ethnic balance etc. are evidence of changes in our political culture of liberal democracy.

As mentioned earlier that a political culture is the reflection of a government that may remain more or less the same over time, the culture of patronage that Atty. Philip N. Wesseh described as “one-man show,” in which political parties are built upon the chief financier and founder has never change. This patronage system as an embodiment of our political culture is what people with high expectations don’t understand.

According to Leonardo R. Arriola (2009) dealing with Patronage and Political Stability in Africa in which he referenced (Bratton & Van de Walle 1997), described the system of patronage as clientelism, neopatrimonialism, or “big man” rule, the patron–client relationship is understood to be the principal mechanism regulating political and economic life in African countries.

Hyden, (2006 ;), Lemarchand & Legg, (1972) explained how it happens. The patrons offer resources to their clients in exchange for their loyalty, and clients support their patrons to access rewards that cannot be readily attained in a weak formal economy. The state is thus a venue where political actors bargain over the allocation of resources and secure their consumption under conditions of economic scarcity. How do all of these references apply to the political culture of Liberia?

Historically you will agree with the argument that in Liberian politics,the chief financier or founder of a given political who virtually does everything for the party that won election is the patron seen as the President of the State. Partisans unable to financially influence campaign but somehow influenced voters are given appointments also equated to resources in exchange for their loyalties and supports instead of the people. This is where political actors bargain over the resources of Liberia. Similar to the adage or idiomthat “He who pays the piper dictates the tune” by virtue of offers, the patron relying on some kind of normative framework has the moral rectitude to decide the fate of the recipients. It is where the term blind loyalists fit into politics. In other words, you got to subscribe to the ideology of the “One- man-show”. In my candid opinion, what makes it difficult for most of our politicians whether from the grassroots or elite society to kick against the ideology of the patron is arguably due to their economic backgrounds.

In as much as government positions from the chief patron is lucrative and have connecting influences, these politicians despite the remorse of conscience support the patronage system at the detriment of the society. In our history of social justice advocacies, we saw some of our politicians who arguably typified the argument. With this kind culture that does not build vibrant political institutions that provide the platform for appointees or party executives members to even challenge the status quo perceivedto be against the interest of the common good of the society,expectations for next regime may be bleak. Think of the African National Congress as a vibrant institution in which President Thabo Mbeki in September 2008 concurred to the demand of the ANC executives to resign due to long and bitter power struggle with his former deputy, Jacob Zuma despite some of his cabinet ministers threatened to resign in solidarity. Can this happen in Liberia?

Remember, instead of the masses demanding Mbeki resignation as reasonably suppose, it was just the ANC executive members. Whatever reasons you may want to impute for Mbeki succumbed to the ANC executive members’ demand, the fact remains that the ANC has transcended from political party to political institution that has no room to accommodate the “one –man- show” or “big man” rule. Without wanting or believing to appear as a sympathizer of the Congress of Democratic Change (CDC) in Liberia, I think the recent dollar lunch program intended to transform the CDC from party to institution, is a good start for the concept of changing minds and attitudes of the “one-man-show” but require high level of the commitment of people that mean well for Liberia
Finally, another practice that embodies Liberia political culture is Recycled Politicians in Governments. These are political actors that bargain over the allocation of resourcesin all regimes if not all. They play the game in many ways. One of the ways happens nearing the completion of the incumbent regime by being critical of issues that could have attracted their early attentions but pretended that the system is fine.

After benefiting from the very regime criticized,they resign or dismiss due to ideological differences. This is what justifies their actions for crossing carpeting to the potential party for the next regime. They project a false image as fighter for social justice to the grassroots buttheir intentions are to avoid joblessness. These are people that I think never have the interest of Liberia at heart. As such, watch out and start knowing them now.

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